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India, you've come a long way

August 10, 2011 21:06 IST

From phone calls that took two days to come through to the cellphone revolution, and scams that have become mindlessly bigger, A Ganesh Nadar glances at a nation that has seen remarkable changes in 64 years.

Sixty-four years is a relatively short span in the life of a great nation, but it has brought in its wake some remarkable change.

I remember the old days fondly -- when we travelled from Mumbai, then Bombay, to our village in Tamil Nadu for the summer vacation.

Our elders would advise us to wear dark clothes for the journey because after Pune junction, the train was driven by coal engines and would leave us covered in soot by journey's end.

Now electric and diesel engines have replaced coal engines and there is a direct train to Tirunelveli, which thankfully has brought an end to the painful train change at Chennai where you had to argue with the city's autorickshaw drivers to get from one railway station to the next.

That was also the time when a phone call to Mumbai from my village meant walking to the post office to book a trunk call. The call sometimes materialised after two days. Expectant callers just waited patiently at the post office and sometimes slept there.

Making a telephone call to the village from Mumbai was even more difficult. It would took a long time to explain to the operator at the exchange that he needed to first find Madras, now Chennai; then Madurai; then Tuticorin my district headquarters; and then our telephone exchange in Kurumbur.

But it was not always slow -- there was a special call called the 'Lightning call' which could get you connected almost instantly or within the hour.

You could also book a personal call to anyone in the village without a phone connection by giving the telephone number of the village post office. The postman would go to the villager's home and bring her/him to the post office. It seems so far removed from what now where residents of my village speak to their children in the United States on their mobile phones standing in their paddy fields.

My village elders say that in the good old days, the yield of paddy was only 50 per cent. These days with the advent of specially designed seeds, fertilisers and pesticides the yield is two-and-a-half times its potential. Some farmers have raised the yield five times.

Rich farmers even now grow paddy in the old ways without fertilisers or pesticides on about half an acre. This paddy is only used to provide rice for family consumption. It is supposed to be the healthiest available rice. In those days everyone did farming in this manner. Now it is called organic farming.

When tractors first came to my village, old timers say they were scared to use it as they feared that cows would not eat the hay over which a tractor had rolled. Today everyone uses a tractor and machines harvest the grain.

Some things, however, haven't changed -- in 1977 when I flew from Thiruvananthapuram to Mumbai, it took one hour and fifty-five minutes. In 2011 it still takes the same time. There are far more airlines on the route, but the flying time remains unchanged.

From the radios and transistors of my childhood to black and white television programmes for three hours every evening, to 24 hour satellite television channels -- does anyone actually know how many channels we actually have? It is non stop bombardment.

The Internet has broken all barriers. News and information is available in every part of the country. Broadband has reached India's villages even though speed remains a problem in rural areas. I am sure it is only a matter of time before we catch up on that front as well.

Though we are one, big, diverse country, regional aspirations continue to mar peace. In Mumbai, North Indians are targeted in the same way South Indians were targeted in the late 1960s. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka continue to fight over water. Tamil Nadu and Kerala fight over a dam.

There is enough potential for hydro-electric power in the Northeast for the entire country, but it hasn't been explored. I remember an MP from the Northeast once told me that this is because the people there feel the rest of the country is exploiting them. It's a shame that our national polity has still not been able to convince the Northeast that they are part of the same country.

Meanwhile, scams have continued to riddle us for years, the difference though is in the scale. In the good old days it started with a modest Rs 60 lakhs. The Bofors scam ran into Rs 64 crores. Today's scams go into lakhs of crores of rupees. No one knows the exact sum and no one knows if the guilty will ever be punished.

In the rapid changes that has relegated much of the past in the deep recesses of memory, some things remain unchanged -- thankfully so. Like when you stand on the sea shore in Kanyakumari, you can feel a special energy. When you look at the grandeur of the snow- capped Himalayas, you can see what beauty is. When you are in the heart of Mumbai, you feel a special buzz.

We live in a great and beautiful nation, but we must be mindful that our success as a country depends on our willingness to live together. We need to walk the talk on our famed 'Unity in Diversity' every day.

A Ganesh Nadar is Senior Assistant Managing Editor, Rediff.com

Also read: Indifference, not corruption is India's most threatening malady

A Ganesh Nadar